The UK Government has been defeated in a court challenge to its controversial refugee policy – meaning “removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful”.

Campaigners and asylum seekers have won a Court of Appeal challenge over the UK Government’s planned Rwanda deportation scheme, which was deemed lawful by the High Court last year.

The UK Government is now seeking to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

Three Court of Appeal judges overturned a High Court ruling that previously said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country”.

The Court of Appeal’s decision was announced by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett during a short hearing in London.

Lord Burnett, who heard the appeal with Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill, said the court ruled by a majority that the policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.

Read more: Suella Braverman small boats plan could breach human rights law

He told the court Sir Geoffrey and Lord Justice Underhill concluded that deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda mean there is a “real risk” asylum seekers could be returned to their home country and face persecution or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good claim for asylum.

He added the two judges found that: “In that sense Rwanda is not a ‘safe third country’.”

Lord Burnett said the court reached its conclusion on the law and took “no view whatsoever” about the political merits of the policy.

He added: “The result is that the High Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed and that unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.

“Finally, the Court of Appeal makes clear that its decision implies no view whatever about the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy.

“Those are entirely a matter for the Government, on which the court has nothing to say.

“The court’s concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by Parliament.”

In December last year, two judges at the High Court dismissed a series of legal bids against the plans, finding the Rwanda proposals were consistent with the Government’s legal obligations.

Read more: Pressure grows on Sunak to order Braverman probe

However, lawyers for some individual asylum seekers and the charity Asylum Aid brought the successful challenge against their decision at the Court of Appeal.

At a hearing in April, lawyers for the group of asylum seekers argued that the High Court “showed excessive deference” to the Home Office’s assessment that assurances made by the Rwandan authorities “provide a sufficient guarantee to protect relocated asylum-seekers” from a risk of torture or inhuman treatment.

The appeal court judges were told that material provided by the Rwandan authorities “lacked credibility, consisting of blanket denials and clear contradictions”.

Lawyers for the Home Office opposed the appeal, telling the court the Rwandan government has “indicated a clear willingness to co-operate with international monitoring mechanisms” and that there are “reciprocal obligations with strong incentives for compliance”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted that "Rwanda is a safe country" and suggested that the government should be able to pursue its policy.

He said: "While I respect the court, I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.

I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries – something that the Lord Chief Justice agrees with."

Mr Sunak added: "Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

"The policy of this government is very simple, it is this country – and your government – who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs. And I will do whatever is necessary to make that happen."


Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was “fully committed” to the policy.

In a statement, she said: “The British people want to stop the boats, and so does this Government. That’s what I am determined to deliver and I won’t take a backward step from that.

“We need innovative solutions to smash the business model of the people smuggling gangs, which is why we formed this partnership with Rwanda.

“The Court of Appeal have been clear that the policy of relocating asylum seekers to a safe third country for the processing of their claims is in line with the Refugee Convention.

“While we are disappointed with their ruling in relation to Rwanda’s asylum system, I will be seeking permission to appeal this.

“I remain fully committed to this policy as does the Rwandan government.”

The SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, said: "The Tory government's Rwanda policy should be scrapped. It is inhumane, unlawful, unworkable - and a vast waste of public money.

“The Tories and Labour are locked in a toxic race to the bottom on migration, that stands contrary to the compassionate approach that people in Scotland want to see."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Not only is the Conservatives’ Rwanda asylum plan immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers, but the Court of Appeal has also now said it is unlawful too.

“It will do nothing to stop dangerous Channel crossings - and it runs roughshod over the UK’s legal obligations, as the courts have confirmed.

“The Home Secretary needs to finally accept reality.

"Instead of wasting even more taxpayer money by defending this plan in the courts, the Home Secretary should scrap her vanity project and focus on tackling the asylum backlog created by her own Government’s incompetence.”